WESTFIELD - A team of 12 high school students from Westfield Academy and Central School boarded a bus headed for Washington, D.C. early Friday morning with their social studies teacher, Greg Birner. Not a sports team, these students will be competing in a prestigious national competition designed to test their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The competition is called We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution.
Birner calls it a David and Goliath story, and gives the credit to his students. "It is a privilege and an honor to work with them. It is a pleasure to have a classroom with such motivated students, and it is their motivation that got us this far.
"They come up with new court cases. The kids have the drive, and self-motivation, and I take my hat off to them. It pushes me as a teacher. I hear things, like how they get together as McDonald's to study. It's special and it feels great."
Westfield Academy and Central School students are competing in Washington, D.C. today and Sunday in a competition regarding knowledge of the U.S. Constitution.
This is the sixth year that Westfield has gone to the state competition, but the first trip to the finals. Ironically, this may be the last year for the national competition, because of loss of funding.
According to Mark Molli, the Associate Director of the Center for Civic Education, the competition began in 1987.
"In the first five years this was funded through the Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger served as a member of the commission and was an adviser to this event," he said.
Students serve as expert witnesses testifying on constitutional issues in a simulated congressional hearing. Students are scored on their opening presentation and on answers to follow-up questions by a panel of judges who grade the students on understanding, constitutional application, reasoning, supporting evidence, responsiveness and participation. The National Finals judges include state Supreme Court justices, public officials, political scientists, historians, educators, attorneys, and We the People Alumni.
Molli said, "If you could see one of the hearings, it would restore your faith in the future of the country. These students have a great knowledge of constitutional issues."
Students from 47 states, the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands will be competing. While Westfield was not the highest scoring team from New York, it secured a wildcard position.
Students who are making the trip to Washington, D.C. are: Iain Cockram, Don Wood III, Alec Freyn, Haleigh Hoebener, Rachel Quagliana, Joseph Marshall, Carly Backus, Lexie Momberger, Markus Jopek, Jade Gelsemino, Garrett Grant, and Chelsea Poletto.
Birner said that they will be competing this afternoon and Sunday.
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